Higher education: Teach real math for college readiness

In his Op-Ed “Washington grads for Washington businesses” [ Dec. 17, Opinion], Chancellor Paul Pitre of Washington State University Everett argues that more young people should get a college education. That is an admirable goal, but the main obstacle is inadequate education in middle and high school. Why encourage students to enter college if they can’t do college work?

This is particularly a problem in mathematics. Colleges require many entering students to take remedial math — teaching them mathematics they should have learned in high school — or, worse, they put students who don’t know high-school math in college-level classes where they can’t do the work, discouraging them and watering down the standards.

“Inquiry-based” math instruction has been dominant in American education for decades. This group-effort, beat-around-the-bush math in which students are encouraged to “discover” mathematical principles doesn’t work.

What works best for students of all races is for the teacher to use clear explanations with lots of practice and rigorous testing. I saw this at Ballard High, where I taught AP Calculus for 10 years.

The Seattle School Board is searching for a new superintendent. It must choose a leader who believes in real math and who will support teachers who teach it.

Ted Nutting, Seattle

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